Sunday 10 November 2019 8:49 pm

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City: Reds produce their best performance of the season on biggest stage

This wasn’t so much a passing of the baton as the baton being wrenched away and twirled in celebration while the opposition howled at the moon about perceived injustice.

The upshot is the same, though: Liverpool have replaced Manchester City as the best in the country, have a strong claim to being the best in the world, and are definitely the team to beat in the Premier League.

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Until this game that was up for debate, but the efficiency and authority with which they took control of the contest through early goals from Fabinho and Mohamed Salah rendered it irrelevant.


When Sadio Mane effectively killed off City with the third goal after half-time, it assured Liverpool of an eight-point lead at the top of tne table that they must – surely – convert into silverware this time.

Decapitation

While the manner of the decapitation was urgent and swift, this has been no overnight dethroning of City.

Two years ago Liverpool showed they could beat them in the Champions League yet finished 25 points adrift domestically. Last year it was only one point, after two tight and tense encounters.

This time Jurgen Klopp’s men came into the clash as runaway leaders and, far from shrinking from hammering another nail into their opponents, summoned by far their best performance of the season.

The Reds have closed the gap, overtaken their rivals and rammed home the point by thoroughly dismantling them.

Counter-attacking flair

City had chances and no shortage of them, not least from Kevin De Bruyne’s gilded set-piece deliveries.

But, save for a frantic first five minutes, they trailed for the whole match and their attempts to get back into it allowed the hosts to showcase their rapier counter-attacking flair.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Fabinho of Liverpool shoots during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City at Anfield on November 10, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Fabinho rifled Liverpool ahead early on (Getty Images)

Fabinho’s 20-yard rocket came after Liverpool cleared a City attack – not without some controversy, as the ball did hit Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm – while Salah’s cushioned header moments later came from a brilliant early cross on the break by Andy Robertson.

Mane’s back-post header, which Claudio Bravo could only spill over the line, was another illustration of Liverpool playing with freedom and swagger while the visitors too often tensed up and stumbled.

Selection gamble

In between proclaiming that City had “shown why we were champions” and insisting he was “so proud” because his team had been “so good”, Pep Guardiola noted City had been without some key players.

Bravo probably should have saved Mane’s header and was a downgrade on the injured Ederson, while the long-term absence of Aymeric Laporte continues to destabilise central defence.

Still, Guardiola’s selection was a gamble, as it has been at Anfield before. Nicolas Otamendi sat on the bench while Fernandinho partnered John Stones, and Angelino started at left-back, with the City boss reporting Benjamin Mendy unfit to be in the squad.

The football was, of course, a mere interlude to the serious business of arguing about the use of the video assistant referee.

On the touchline, Guardiola did not hide his displeasure at Fabinho’s goal being allowed to stand, much less after City might have been awarded a penalty for Alexander-Arnold’s handball.

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (C) watches the Liverpool team run out at the start of the second half during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on November 10, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /  (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Guardiola was unhappy with referee Michael Oliver (Getty Images)

Replays showed, however, that City’s Bernardo Silva had himself handled immediately before the ball struck the Liverpool defender – for which the hosts would have been awarded a free-kick.

Guardiola howled for a penalty in the second half, when Raheem Sterling’s attempted cross hit Alexander-Arnold’s arm from point-blank range. Again, it was in vain, summing up City’s frustrating afternoon.

Intensity

Klopp praised his team’s intensity but attempted to deflect talk of Liverpool ending their 30-wait for the English top-flight title.

He won’t be able to avoid it for the next six months, though. His team are in the box seat and it is now as much as test of skill and will as it will be of nerve.

It would be unfair to characterise City coming from seven points behind Liverpool in January to win last season as Klopp’s men caving, although it must have left its scars.

But Anfield expects and if not now – with this group and this manager – then, really, when?

Main image credit: Getty Images

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